Ford government slashing tuition by 10 per cent will cost students

The Ontario government has officially announced a series of upcoming changes to Ontario student’s tuition fees, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and structure of the formerly mandatory ancillary fee framework, which will be affecting post-secondary students in the new year.

A news release published on Jan. 17, 2019 by the Ontario government, entitled “Government for the People to Lower Student Tuition Burden by 10 per cent” offered further explanation regarding the changes, stating that the “first ever province-wide tuition reduction will make college and university more affordable and accessible for students and families, while empowering students to choose how fees are spent.”

It continued, evaluating the benefits that the provincial government hopes to achieve by putting more money “in the pockets of Ontario students and families.”

Foremost, Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities argues that by lowering the tuition rate across the province, they will be ensuring that “all qualified Ontario students will have more affordable access to high quality skills, training and education.”

The release notes that this is part of the provincial government’s overall plan to improve “post-secondary education affordability” and will be “refocusing” OSAP so that it “remains sustainable and viable” for students in the future, as well as helping out those who need financial assistance the most.

They also believe that it will help deal with a critical issue in their eyes: giving OSAP funding to those with very high incomes “with virtually no meaningful criteria for success” and that “instead of using OSAP to indirectly subsidize future rounds of tuition hikes, [they] will [instead] focus [their] resources on the families in greatest need,” Fullerton said in the release.

In doing this, the provincial government hopes that it will encourage their “partners in the post-secondary sector to deliver better value for the high tuitions they already charge,” she said.

This release also noted changes to what fees students pay for certain campus services, which they call the “Student Choice Initiative.” Some fees, such as “essential campus health and safety initiatives,” will be compulsory, but others may become optional. This means that students will be able to “opt-out” of paying for services, activities or associations that do not benefit them.

“Too often, [universities] force students to pay for services they do not use and organizations they do not support … We will ensure students have transparency and freedom of choice regarding the campus services and organizations which get access to their money,” Fullerton said in the release.

The release also included potential statistics for tuition funding reductions, including a $300 reduction for a Conestoga College Practical Nursing program, $700 reduction for arts and science undergraduate students at the University of Guelph and a $1,120 reduction for an engineering student at Carleton University.

In response to this, Deborah MacLatchy, Wilfrid Laurier University’s President, as well as its Students’ Union, have released statements confirming their official stance on the provincial government’s decisions.

MacLatchy’s release, later that day, further outlined a number of the changes that the government will be instating, including domestic tuition, which will be “frozen for the 2020-21 academic year,” “changes in eligibility for OSAP grants” and that the “reduction in tuition excludes international student tuition.”

She notes that “the tuition reduction represents a positive impact on some students,” but said that “the reduction in revenue will have a significant effect on our university.”

“It’s freezing today — having students still come out because we all believe in the same thing and we’re all extremely upset by the changes that Ford has made to the OSAP is really amazing.”

Concluding the release, MacLatchy stated: “as we consider our challenges, we will keep Laurier’s Vision, Mission and Values at the forefront. The student experience and quality of our academic programs will remain top priorities for Laurier.”

“We will continue to do all that we can to maintain the excellence of our university and to protect the supports and services our students need to be successful in their academic programs. I am confident in the ability of the Laurier community to work together to address these challenges,” she said.

The Students’ Union’s release reflected a number of the same sentiments provided by MacLatchy, however, it advocated in favour of combining the tuition cuts “with increased government investment in post-secondary institutions.”

“Ontario universities already receive the lowest levels of per-student public funding in Canada,” the statement continues. “We are committed to an affordable, accessible, and high quality academic experience, but recognize that without greater investment from the provincial government this cut represents a marginal short-term benefit designed to distract from insufficient long-term public funding.”

As expected, one of the primary concerns of the release is examining the changes that OSAP and ancillary fee structures might have on the future sustainability and growth of the Students’ Union, especially with the shifting of priority from grants to loans.

“The provincial government is limiting accessibility and imposing a greater debt burden on students,” the release said.

Furthermore, by removing the six-month repayment grace for debt repayment, the provincial government, they state, “continues to contradict its emphasis on post-secondary affordability.”

As a service that considers themselves an “integral part of Laurier’s renowned student experience” — which has been hailed as being number one for three years continuously — the Students’ Union is one of the many organizations on campus whose “institutional budgets have struggled to adapt to decreased public funding,” the release continued.

The release concludes, arguing in favour of the former ancillary fee structure because it promotes the “essential elements of student health and safety, career-building co-curricular leadership opportunities, peer-support services, and enable[s] engagement with global affairs far beyond our campuses and communities.”

On Jan. 22, between 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., a number of concerned student activists collected at the Veterans’ Green at the corner of Hazel Street and University Avenue, to demonstrate their collective voice against the provincial government’s decisions.

As well, Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, the former Minister of Advanced Education & Skills Development, spoke at the event.

“A few of us decided that we should take action. We need the government to be listening to students. The recent OSAP cuts are absolutely awful, especially since it’s basically an attack on low-income students and families,” said Desiree Sam, a fourth-year political science and environmental studies student at Laurier.

“A lot of people I know personally are going to be affected very badly. I personally am going to be affected.”

As one of the organizers for the event, Sam wished to keep the protest peaceful and give the opportunity and chance for students to speak with politicians involved in the implementation of the previous OSAP, as well as those who helped create the legislation for providing free tuition to low-income students.

“It’s very important today that we be able to talk about how important these issues are, considering that education is very much a necessity and it is absolutely ridiculous that the government has decided to have an attack [against] low-income people … we hope that the government is listening,” Sam said.

A number of students also came out to support the protest, bundled against a piercing cold and extreme weather alert, to demonstrate their fierce opposition against the changes.

“I think it’s amazing seeing students coming together, protesting something that we don’t think is fair or right,” said Caitlyn Drexler, a fourth-year political science and law student at Laurier.

“It’s freezing today — having students still come out because we all believe in the same thing and we’re all extremely upset by the changes that Ford has made to the OSAP is really amazing.”

“I’m here because education is for everyone and it being inaccessible perpetuates a cycle of poverty because people can’t get educated and get out of bad situations … it means that we can’t afford education,” said Madeleine Neufeld, a third-year peace and conflict studies and political science student at Laurier.

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